WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH by Rob Grantmyre
“Attractive Wrightsville Beach is representative of the new communities that have sprung up around boating centers. Drawing its principal sustenance from nearby Wilmington, it is a thriving town of its own now.”
-Around America, Walter Cronkite
Originally named New Hanover Banks in the 1700’s, the small barrier island was officially incorporated as Wrightsville Beach in 1899. Named for the Wright family, prominent landowners in Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach has blossomed into one of the Carolina’s most treasured small towns.
Early recreation on the Island included fishing, hunting and the most passionate sport of the day, sailing. The popularity of sailing led to the construction of the first major structure on the Island. The Carolina Yacht Club was completed in 1853 and has hosted hundreds of regattas through the years. The Yacht Club is still thriving today as the Town’s largest and most successful private beach club. It is recognized as one of the oldest yacht clubs in the United States.
Hugh McRae was perhaps most responsible for the early days of development and prosperity at Wrightsville Beach. As President of Tide Water Power Company he helped to establish the railroad that carried hundreds of visitors to the Island each weekend. The convenience of travel to Wrightsville Beach led the way for his next project, constructing one of the Nation’s most spectacular entertainment venues. Lumina Station was an enormous beachfront pavilion sitting on 200 feet of majestic oceanfront. The 12,500 square foot facility was complete with bowling alley, shooting gallery, dance hall, and a movie screen fifty feet out over the Atlantic. The glory days of Lumina Station ended in 1972 as the many years of patronage and tides of change finally caught up. Automobiles had long since replaced the trolley lines, and competition from other businesses finally closed the doors for good.
Today the city limits of Wrightsville Beach include the small barrier island, the adjacent Harbour Island, and a small part of the mainland. There are delectable restaurants, a handful of rousing nightclubs, and the most beautiful white sand beaches in the Carolinas. Unlike highly developed coastal communities, Wrightsville has maintained a steadfast dedication to preserving the natural beauty and simple elegance that made it special 100 years ago. They enforce strict building codes allowing very few high-rises. The zoning ordinances also prohibit commercial enterprises from running wild. The Island stretches nearly 4 miles in length, and has approximately 3,000 full time residents.